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Author Amish Tripathi gets almost a million dollars advance

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Brisk sales prompt publishing industry in India to make bold moves.

Bureau Report

BANGALORE: In a signal move that suggests that the publishing industry in India is becoming mature and is ready to hand out advances to authors equaling sums handed out in the West, author of the Shiva trilogy Amish Tripathi has been given a whopping Rs. 5 crores, close to $1 million, advance by Westland for his next series, even though the author has not decided what he will write about.

Amish Tripathi
Amish Tripathi

With five lakh copies of his mythological fantasy ‘The Oath of the Vayuputras’ sold within a day of its release earlier this week, Tripathi, 38, has become the new “literary popstar” as Shekhar Kapur described him, reported The Times of India.

“We made the deal based on Amish’s sales record,” says Gautam Padmanabhan, CEO of Westland. “It’s a pre-emptive bid of Rs. 5 crore for the book, audio and e-publishing rights to his next series for the south-Asian region. It’s the largest advance we’ve ever paid, and the largest Indian deal.”

Amish was a banker before the success of his second book prompted him to quit and become a full-time author. “It’s been a crazy last few days,” said the writer, during a break between book-signing events that had queues of delirious fans dressed up as Shiva and chanting ‘Har Har Mahadev’.

Previous advances that made waves are a reported £1million (approximately Rs. 8 crore) for the worldwide rights to Vikram Seth’s sequel to ‘A Suitable Boy’, and a Rs. 97 lakh-payout for seven of historian Ramachandra Guha’s books, both by Penguin. In 2007, Amitav Ghosh reportedly received about Rs 55 lakh for his Ibis Trilogy, and Nandan Nilekani Rs 25 lakh for ‘Imagining India’. Last year, Random House India is said to have paid more than Rs 50 lakh for cricketer Yuvraj Singh’s autobiography. Celebrity nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar, entrepreneurship expert Rashmi Bansal and thriller writer Ashwin Sanghi are also rumored to get high advances, said the Times report. Rupa’s Chetan Bhagat, with sales of more than one million copies for each of his titles, is another high earner.

“Amish’s advance is only for the south-Asian rights, which means it could turn into a $4 million deal by the time we finish with film, foreign and translation rights,” says Amish’s agent Anuj Bahri of Red Ink Literary Agency. Incidentally, Bahri helped publish the first of the trilogy ‘The Immortals of Meluha’ after it was rejected by more than 20 publishers. He admits the advance is large but says it makes sense considering the Shiva Trilogy has sold more than one million copies over two years and notched up gross retail sales of Rs. 22 crore.

Most authors receive a chunk of money before the manuscript is delivered and it is set off against royalties. Kapish Mehra, MD of Rupa, which publishes Chetan Bhagat, says advances have risen because the possibility of sales has. “An advance is a direct multiple of expected sales,” he says. “It’s a calculated risk a publisher takes based on the author.”

Advances range from Rs 30,000 to tens of lakhs, depending on the author’s writing, experience, brand value, and sales record. The calculation is usually a multiplication of MRP, royalty percentage and expected sales, but the amounts have been rising rapidly in the last five years with debut authors demanding — and getting — up to a lakh due to competitive bidding. By regular market standards, Rs 10 lakh to Rs 50 lakh are high advances.

Saugata Mukherjee, publisher, Pan Macmillan India, which was also offered the series, describes Amish as a “safe bet” but says the amount is “mind-boggling” by Indian standards, says the report. “I thought it was unwise and too much of a risk. The market hasn’t been the best over the last few years, so Rs 5 crore is astronomical. Agents have been working hard to get publishers to pay upfront, but advances put a lot of pressure on the publishing house,” he says. Sales of Amish’s books would have to be more than double for the publishing house to make its money.

Putting a lot of money on an author is a gamble, but publishing houses often take it to retain a star author, poach one, or buttress its list. The risks sometimes come a cropper: A couple of years ago Penguin paid a seven-figure advance for the rights to debut author Sarita Mandanna’s Tiger Hill but it bombed and got lukewarm reviews. “Sometimes you don’t recover your advance but you have faith in the author or you want them on your list so you sign,” says Mukherjee.

Publishers are quick to say large advances are not a trend. “Amish is a breakaway and Meluha is an exception,” says Karthika VK, publisher and chief editor of Harper Collins India. “The Indian market is not booming because one author has got such a large advance. The reality is that it’s a tough market though it is growing steadily in a few segments,” she says.

Padmanabhan of Westland says large advances are a sign of a market maturing, said the Times report. “We couldn’t have dreamt of such sales figures three years ago,” he says. “But the market is expanding and we don’t know the top end yet.”

Tripathi is an alumnus of Indian Institute of Management Calcutta. He worked for 14 years in the financial services industry, in companies such as Standard Chartered, DBS Bank and IDBI Federal Life Insurance, before starting his writing career.

The Immortals of Meluha, Tripathi’s first novel, was published in February 2010. It is the first book in the Shiva Trilogy. The second book in the series, The Secret of the Nagas, was released in August 2011. The third installment, The Oath of the Vayuputras, was released earlier this week. The trilogy is a fantasy re-imagining of the Indian deity Shiva’s life and adventures.

Tripathi’s marketing skills and strategies have been widely credited for the success of his novels. In an earlier interview, Tripathi said: “It’s a fallacy to think that a good book sells itself. I can give you a long list of books that I think should have been bestsellers but nobody’s heard of them. My management background along with marketing experience helped me devise effective strategies for promoting my book.”

Weeks before The Immortals of Meluha hit the bookshops, Tripathi printed sample copies of the first chapter and persuaded bookshops and chains to give them away free to anyone who approached the cash counter, creating a buzz. It was an unprecedented move and gave the book very high visibility considering that at that time, Tripathi was an unknown author. He also made presentations to big retail chains, visited smaller retailers, met local distributors and regularly sent email updates to various stakeholders. Tripathi targeted social media websites for promoting his debut novel, and made a trailer film with a background score reportedly by Taufiq Qureshi and uploaded it on YouTube.

For promotion of his second book, Tripathi created video trailers and screened them at multiplexes. These trailers were of similar quality as movie trailers, complete with visual effects. They were released with the Shahrukh Khan starrer Ra.One. Tripathi believed that this would “work as the audience that visits theatres is the same that reads my books.” Three other trailers were released on YouTube.

Earlier this year, a music album called Vayuputras, an original soundtrack based on The Oath of the Vayuputras. The album had songs by artists like Sonu Nigam, Taufiq Qureshi, Palash Sen, Bickram Ghosh amongst others working on this. This was the first time ever that an original soundtrack has been made for a book series.